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Flying With A Toddler- Top 5 Tips

Flying With A Toddler- Top 5 Tips

This post may contain affiliate links. Click HERE to view my disclosures.

tips for flying with a toddler, preschooler, or young child on an airplaneSo you’re flying with a toddler soon and a bit worried you might be forcefully thrown out the emergency exit at touchdown? I feel your pain. Since transplanting to the deep south 10 years ago, I have made more trips back to my native California than I can count. I took my oldest child to visit my ailing grandmother 7 times in my daughter’s first year of life. In fact, I just got back from another visit last week where I flew alone with my three little kids (6 and under), whose dad had to work. The number one question I get from friends and strangers alike is, “How do you fly by yourself with three little kids?” Below are a few basic principles that I’ve come to live by when flying with a toddler. In general, I find it helpful to think of flying with a toddler as hostage negotiations. Forget about your core values,  abandon your typical parenting style, give up on personal dignity, hygiene, comfort, or basic self-respect. Do whatever it takes to spare the souls of those other 172 innocent hostages seated around you, because you are all being held hostage at the same altitude… together.

Rapid-Fire Activities

Flying with a toddler is one of those times when its worth it to spend a few bucks on some brand new, novel, mind-blowing activities. The activities themselves will vary based on your child’s age and developmental stage, but the point is to have a whole bunch of quiet, easily-packable, readily available activities all individually packaged and ready to go in rapid succession. Make yourself a good pile of options, then double it, then take everything out of the wrappers, packaging, etc and have each individual activity bagged separately with all supplies ready to be found with one hand. When you get your little one engaged in something, resist the urge to lean back and take a breath. In fact, don’t ever lean back and take a breath when flying with toddlers. It signals weakness to them and will invite a sneak attack. Just when you look out the window or close your eyes, you closest 30 neighbors will inevitably be startled awake by the blood-curdling screams of a horrific killer-bee attack, which, at 34,000 feet sounds shockingly similar to a  toddler with a slightly leaking sippy cup or misplaced yellow crayon, but by then the damage is done. So, never, never, ever sit back and take a breath. Just keep a defensive posture with the next activity already locked and loaded in your hand or under your opposite leg. ready to blow your child’s mind yet again. Stay tuned for a future post showing all the awesome activities I custom pick for each of my children, ages 2, 4, and 6, and some of my favorites from those earlier ages.

Don’t. Check. The. Time.

I know, I know, we all do it- even more so when flying with a toddler. About the time you think you’ve got to be at least half way there, you grab your phone and do some quick “time zone math.” But before you try convincing yourself that you must be another hour off, just stop yourself. Don’t even look. I promise you it will only dash your dreams and leave you in an airborne abyss of despair. No matter how well its going, flying with a toddler just slows down the space-time continuum. You’re going to look at the clock and come to the harsh realization that you are only 42 minutes into that flight. Then, instead of staying one step ahead with the rapid fire activities, you will be distracted by the dilemma of whether to fake a bomb threat or a heart attack to get out of that plane early, and you will have to start all over after an emergency landing in Wichita. Just sit there and be pleasantly surprised when you feel the second most amazing sensation of your trip, the engines quieting down for descent- second only to the thud of landing.

Kids eat. You starve. Accept it.

Forget everything you know about nutrition. Flying with a toddler is not the time for Whole 30 snacks. Bribe your kids with their most coveted, most forbidden snacks. Bring a bunch, and skip the bulk bags and saving money. Buy the expensive single-serving packages you never buy. Know why? Because they’re shiny. Because they make better crinkling sounds than any ziploc bag. Because they’re neon colored. Enough said. Forget about your own meal. You can’t have the next 3 activities in your hand if your hand is holding a sandwich or an open cup of soda and ice. The minute an airborne toddler senses distraction, they will strike. Go hungry. Drive thru on the way to the airport and forget about eating on the plane. You don’t stop for a picnic in the middle of a war zone. Once you haul all your crap to the back row of the plane, you will conveniently be near the galley. Ask the flight attendant back there for a few cans of unopened water. Pound one before you even sit down. Then save the other to celebrate your survival upon landing. I have been offered free liquor by sympathetic flight attendants, but they’ve never once offered it to my toddlers, so what would be the point?

Bring a cheap, lightweight car seat

I’ve done it both ways. When your baby is under the age of 2, they can fly for free on your lap, so bringing a car seat might not be an option. Personally, I bring the car seat with the understanding that I might gate check it, but I also might just bring it on board the plane if there are empty seats to be had. Ask the gate agent at the desk right before boarding if there are empty seats, and if so, go to the back row with your car seat. No one will be fighting over the seat next to you and your baby. That gives you the option of baby on your lap or the even better option of baby in their seat if they fall asleep. It also lets you pee without another person on your lap. I have tried hauling my heavy Britax car seats. Just don’t. While I definitely see the advantage of surrounding my baby in steel in the event of a car crash, its probably not all that beneficial in the event of a plane crash, so buy the cheapest lightest car seat money can buy. (At only 7.6 pounds, this one allows the tray to come down flat enough to eat, has been the perfect airplane seat for us, and just comfortably held my 4 year old last trip when she got strep throat on the plane and just wanted to sleep.) Plus its cheaper than those FAA approved air travel seat harnesses that serve no purpose once you make it to a car, whereas a cheap travel car seat can be used in a rental car, grandma’s car, or an extra seat if a friend comes along.  Then you can skip the red gate check bag that shreds 5 minutes after takeoff or having to buy the expensive one that costs more than a cheap car seat. Just bring a cheap seat, (for the sake of the hostages) make the straps bigger and throw one strap over your shoulder or stroller handle to save yourself the time, money, and physical exhaustion of hauling your big expensive seat to the back row of the plane, where it will slam the elbows of 68 people sitting in the aisle on your way back there. I travel alone with my 3 littles, a double umbrella stroller, and my cheap car seat. The car seat has always been worth the little bit of extra effort. I’ve never once regretted bringing it.

Bring a “beater” stroller

preparing for airplane flight with toddlers with lightweight car seat and double umbrella stroller

Baggage handlers are brutal with strollers! So whats a mom to do besides carry a kid through an airport? Oh, yes- buy something else to protect their expensive stroller. Those cheap red “gate check” bags are completely worthless, and didn’t last for even the first flight on my car seat or stroller. Then I bought the heavy-duty expensive bags, which do keep the grime and grease away but don’t keep the contents from being thrown and slammed around. The bigger problem with those bags, especially if you are traveling without the help of another parent, is that you then have to stop at the bottom of the jetway, remove your child, and wrestle the stroller in or out of the bag while your child goes to find another plane that’s their favorite color. It only took me a few flights to ditch my expensive stroller at home and embrace the rugged beauty and simplicity of the beater stroller, which cost me a whopping $7.50 at a consignment store five years ago. I can pick that puppy up with one hand, flip the release, toss it into the pile at the end of the jetway, and walk onto the plane- all with a screaming, thrashing toddler safely hanging upside-down over my shoulder. And considering what I paid for it and how long I have used it for air travel, I do not care if it gets dirty or tossed around because its clearly indestructible anyway. Along those same lines, if you, like me, travel frequently to the same destination to visit the same people, consider buying something used to just keep there exclusively for your visits. After one trip home trying to haul and protect my precious stroller and car seat, I decided it was easier to just buy a second set used to keep there. I found my exact same model stroller, infant seat and bases for $75 on Craigslist which my dad then stored for me in between visits. Later on, I also found my exact same beloved fancy-pants tandem stroller used locally at my destination, which now allows me to travel with just a cheap double umbrella stroller for the airport.

BONUS TIP: Anytime you find yourself flying with a toddler, don’t be afraid to make $h*t up. You’d be amazed at the compassion your fellow passengers can muster up when told that you are flying to that well-known children’s hospital for medical testing. Far more than you’ll ever get by saying, “I pulled my kids out of school this week so we could go to Disney without waiting in those huge lines.” Remember, its for the “hostages.” Take one for the team and do whatever you have to do.

Do you have an epic toddler quote from your last flight? Mine was “This is taking forever! Can we just hurry up and crash already?” Share your favorite in-flight nightmares or secret tactics in the comment section below!

Sarah

  • Legally Blind Mom of Three
  • Childbirth Educator & Doula
  • Former Special Ed Teacher
  • Chocoholic

5 BEST Gifts Teachers Will Actually Love

5 BEST Gifts Teachers Will Actually Love

This post may contain affiliate links. Click HERE to view my disclosures.

Gift Giving Advice from a Former Teacher

As promised, here is the follow-up to my previous post 5 Gifts to NEVER Give.a Teacher. It comes with the same qualifier: Of course your child’s teacher will appreciate any effort or thoughtfulness you show them at Christmas. Yes, it truly is the thought that counts. That being said, if you’d like to bless them with something they can actually use or enjoy, skip the items on my previous post, and go with one of these! Keep in mind that what teachers are needing most in December is more time. It takes a lot of time to cover all the normal bases of lesson planning, testing, documentation, prepping the room for a long break, etc, not to mention all the time that goes into making the Christmas magic happen in the classroom. If your child is making a gingerbread house, someone will be spending a lot of extra time rinsing and bleaching all those stinky milk cartons on which those houses will be built. If your child is having a cookie decorating party, someone is spending a lot of time coordinating with the parents, writing notes, organizing supplies, and prepping everything by table. If your child is making a craft as a Christmas gift to you, someone is spending a lot of time buying, prepping, assembling, and wrapping those two dozen gifts. Not to mention the countless other touches of whimsy and wonder that good teachers magically sprinkle into your child’s December. Magical classrooms often come at the expense of the teacher’s own family magic, especially this year when many teachers will still  e in school until December 22nd, leaving very little time for their own shopping, cooking, and Christmas magic. So this year, think outside the typical Pinterest box and opt for one of these ideas that will truly bless your child’s teacher with more time or treat them to something special.

Make Them Dinner

This sounds so simple, quaint, and lacking in typical Pinterest glory, but wanna blow a teacher’s mind at Christmas? Tell them you are making their family dinner the night before the class Christmas party. They will act like you just gave them your kidney. No, it won’t win “best gift” with the other moms standing around at the party, but I bet it will be most appreciated by the recipient, and isn’t that the whole point? Those last few days of school before break are so hectic for teachers. The list is so long. While they are helping care for your kiddo, you can actually help them care for theirs by treating them to a home-cooked meal that they probably wouldn’t get that night. Ask them in advance if there’s anything they don’t eat and let them know you’ll be sending dinner a day or two before the class party. Personally, if the party is Friday, I drop of a crock pot meal at pickup on Wednesday so they can throw it in the crock pot on Thursday morning and walk into the yummy smells of an already cooked and ready meal when they get home on Thursday with a huge to-do list. And if you send a crock pot meal with one of these slow cooker liners and some cute Christmas-y paper plates or bowls from the Dollar Tree, you will give the added blessing of a night off from both cooking and dishes as well! Seriously. Try it. Be the hero.

One Decadent Treat

Instead of a bunch of so-so pre-packaged candy or cookies, why not pick up one, freshly made, worth the calories, treat that is just for them? (Or, if you’ve got the time and talent, make it yourself!) If you’re only buying one serving, then you can probably splurge on something from that well-known bakery that everyone loves for about the same price as a whole tin of that crap that has been sitting on the Walmart shelf since November 1st. And even better if you gift it to that stressed out teacher a few days before the class party, when sweets are everywhere. You may never know how much a few bites of bliss and a hand-written note might make their day, help them get through one of those last long afternoons, or give them the pick-me-up to stay late and bleach the funk out of those stupid little milk cartons… I mean gingerbread houses-to-be.

Movie Night

This has so many options for every budget, but the theme is the same- the gift of quality time during their holiday break- spent with their kids, their spouse, a friend or just their favorite jammies and wine. Low budget? Include a Redbox promo code on a big gift tag with a pair of slipper socks and some hot cocoa. Do they use a streaming device like AppleTV or FireTV? If so, you could include an iTunes or Amazon gift card for the amount of a movie rental with a beverage of your choice. Or you could always buy two tickets to the movie theater. All of these options could be customized to your liking and budget with cute tags, snacks, drinks, or popcorn to make a fun presentation, ultimately offering the gift of down time that can be used during their break.

Can I Take Your Order?

Preschool and elementary teachers never have time to eat at school. They may have unions, but 30 minute lunch breaks just. don’t. exist in the real world. There is cafeteria duty or recess duty, the copies that didn’t get made last night because the machine was jammed, the parent phone call to be returned, picking up the mail in their box, answering that parent email, Timmy fell outside and needs a hug, finally a chance to pee, and… crap- there’s the bell. Lunch? What’s that? You could totally make a teacher’s day by just offering to bring them lunch from their favorite nearby restaurant! A hot to-go lunch for one is not that expensive, but would sure be a treat for most teachers I’ve ever worked with! But if lunch is not in the budget, you could always offer to grab their favorite Starbucks order and drop it by school in the morning. Either of these simple, affordable gestures paired with a nice note would certainly be appreciated during that stressful last school week in December and be something personal, just for them to enjoy.

 Old Faithful- aka the Target Gift Card

I know this is not nearly as creative or personal as the above list. But… for those crazy busy times when you simply do. not. have. time. for cooking, Pinterest printed tags, wrapping, or special deliveries, you can’t go wrong with Old Faithful. Even on a budget, its a winner.  Your kid’s teacher would probably rather have a note from you and $5 to spend at Target on whatever they want than $10 worth of randomly scented candles and bath stuff, prepackaged candy, or other stuff they may or may not want. Have you ever once wandered the aisles or Target kid-free and thought, “Nope, there’s just nothing in here I like or want.” And even if that were true, your kid’s teacher could still buy coffee, chocolate, or wine, so its fool-proof.

Do you have more gift ideas teachers will love? Tell us about them in the comments! If you’re a teacher, tell us the best gift you’ve ever received from a student’s family!

Sarah

  • Legally Blind Mom of Three
  • Childbirth Educator & Doula
  • Former Special Ed Teacher
  • Chocoholic

16 Ways Dads Can Help with Breastfeeding

16 Ways Dads Can Help with Breastfeeding

This post may contain affiliate links. Click HERE to view my disclosures.

As a childbirth educator and birth doula, I am passionate about helping families prepare for birth and breastfeeding. Having three babies in four years has shown me a clear need for better information for new dads. My husband wanted to support and help me in any way he could, but honestly did not know how. There is no substitute for thorough childbirth education to help prepare dads for life with a new baby. The Birth Boot Camp classes i teach in Slidell, Louisiana cover breastfeeding and newborn care in depth. Here are a few of my best tips for dads to help support breastfeeding!

Bring her a glass of water every time she feeds the baby.

It takes a lot of water to make milk and water is usually the last thing on a new mom’s mind… that is until she sits down to nurse and has a hormone-induced hot flash! But by then she doesn’t dare move and interrupt baby! If the new dad starts the habit of bringing mom a glass of water every time she feeds the baby, mom can stay hydrated and feel cared for. If you have older children, make it a tumbler with a lid and straw to avoid a spill.

Clear the chaos during feedings.

This is especially true for families with multiple children! Stress hormones block the hormonal process of letdown (milk release) so if noise or family chaos is stressing mom out, dad to the rescue! Dad can take siblings in the other room to play, turn the TV down if its blaring, answer the phone, hush the barking dogs, and put any disagreement you may be having on hold- whatever it takes to help mom relax.

Offer supportive touch.

Breastfeeding may be natural but it is still a learned skill. Mom and baby are both learning and the learning process can be stressful or frustrating in the beginning. Offering a supportive touch can change the vibe in the room from mom being stared at like a “watched pot” to being silently supported.

Make sure she is comfortable and has the breastfeeding tools she needs.

There are so many “right ways” to feed a baby and the most comfortable way may or may not be sitting straight up and down in a rocking chair. Look at mom’s face. Does she look like she is being tortured? Does she look like she is in a miserably contorting position? Is she leaning over to bring breast to baby? Help her first get comfortable, which can be anything from laying back in a recliner to laying on her side, to sitting up, or everything in between. Then Help her find ways to bring baby to breast with support so she is not leaning over or having to lift baby and support that weight herself. There are pillows designed especially for breastfeeding, but sometimes just adding a few bed pillows can also feel right for moms. Pay attention to her comfort and offer to get whatever might help her find that comfy-cozy spot that works best for her. Gel pads and lanolin cream can go a long way in healing sore nipples. Ask her if she needs some, and go get it for her at Target, Walmart, or a pharmacy.

Get up with her in the middle of the night.

I know, this sounds pointless, but hear me out! When mom is solely responsible for always getting up, missing out on so much sleep, and watching you snore, she might get a little resentful of being the only one on night shift. Even if you can’t nurse, you can still get up and bring baby to her! You can make sure that she is warm or cool enough, offer a blanket or pillow, offer a glass of water or a cup of tea, or just sit with her and tell her she’s amazing and you appreciate her. This helps her pivot from feeling overwhelmed, alone, and possibly resentful of your slumber to feeling supported and appreciated by her teammate.

Invest in a good breast pump.

Whether or not mom works outside the home, invest in a good pump. A good pump equals freedom! Freedom for the two of you to finally have a date night. Freedom for mom to escape to Target alone when she is losing her mind. Freedom for her to sleep through the night when she gets sick (or just plain tired) so you can feed baby a bottle at night. The difference between a cheap pump and an expensive pump is HUGE. This is not the place to cheap out Dad! Freedom is priceless! This one is an all-around great pump that has lasted me through 6+ years of breastfeeding, and allowed me to pump on planes, boats, and beaches.

Never say the “F” word first.

Just don’t. She’s well aware of the existence of formula. She cares just as much for that baby as you do. If she feels like formula needs to be considered, she’ll go there. In the mean time, no matter how much you coat your suggestion it in glitter and rainbows, it just might be interpreted as doubting her feeding decision, questioning her ability to breastfeed, or just not being supportive.

Remind her of how amazing she is.

Point out how she already grew a whole person from her body, and is now feeding a whole person with nothing but her body. Let her know that you don’t take for granted how amazing her body is. Be proud of what she’s already accomplished and expectant for how well she’ll continue to care for your baby. Let her know that you appreciate her choice to breastfeed your baby. She didn’t have to make that choice.

If she is struggling, get help.

Don’t wait until she is drowning. If you see her struggling to tread water, call in a life guard ASAP! If you used a doula, call them and ask if they can come visit. Call your nearest hospital or birthplace and make an appointment with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, or IBCLC. These ladies are the experts on helping moms breastfeed and there is no substitute for their knowledge and skill set!  (And do NOT complain about the cost! A year’s worth of formula costs far more than a few visits with a lactation consultant!) These ladies are like mommy-whisperers. Moms go in crying, doubting themselves, feeling hopeless. An hour later, they emerge with newfound confidence, hope, and a plan of action to try at home. Some lactation consultants even come to your home, which is beyond ideal and worth every penny! Ask your doula, childbirth educator, pediatrician, obstetrician, or midwife for recommendations. The same goes for her emotional well-being- if she is struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, anger, or just in a funk that she can’t get out of, find her help. Let her know she is not crazy. Find a therapist who specializes in postpartum mood disorders or at the very least, a female therapist who has had children of her own and has experience with postpartum mood disorders.

Be the gate-keeper and silence the doubters.

Your mother may mean well when she tells the new mom that formula will help baby sleep better. Your sister may not mean to terrify the new mom with her stories of bleeding nipples. But YOU need to be the gate-keeper and filter the feedback she is receiving. What people say to a new mom matters. It can affect them so much more than you may think. Its very possible that visiting friends and family may have the best of intentions and the worst of ideas when offering breastfeeding advice- advice based on outdated, obsolete practices that we now no to be detrimental to breastfeeding, like using formula simply to increase sleep duration. Make a judgement-free zone around mom, offering solely encouraging feedback. If that means redirecting the conversations with visitors, then do it. If that means pulling your mom aside and asking her nicely to keep her breastfeeding advice to herself, then do it.

Go to newborn appointments with her.

If at all possible, go to those first few appointments with mom and baby. Be with her when baby is weighed and feeding is discussed. Offer another set of ears to interpret any suggestions and help mom think through the feedback she receives. Praise her publicly and be proud of how hard she is working to feed your baby, because it is hard work! If there are any concerns about weight or growth, being present together as a team to ask questions and discuss options is always better than making her be the messenger and potentially leaving you with unanswered questions.

Dads can read about breastfeeding too!

Don’t assume its her responsibility alone to be educated on breastfeeding! Read a breastfeeding book like this one, or read through an evidence based-website like KellyMom. Take ownership in the learning process so that she doesn’t have to educate you as to why your well-meaning suggestions are actually counterproductive. If you, as the dad, are equipped with some basic knowledge about how breastfeeding works, you will be better prepared to recognize and redirect those voices of doubt and bad advice that may find their way into mom’s ear. Do you know how big a newborn baby’s stomach actually is at birth or by day 5? If not, then find out, so you can remind mom of exactly how little milk a newborn actually needs in case she starts doubting that she is making enough.  Knowledge is power! Get some!

Feed her!

New moms are hungry! They are also very tired and busy all day growing a person with nothing but their body. Make. Her. Meals. If you need help, ask. If someone offers to bring you a meal, do not hesitate, do not say you’re fine, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Say, “YES PLEASE.” And if you are home, do not wait for mom to ask for food. If its morning, just make her breakfast. If its lunchtime, just make her lunch. If its dinnertime… you guessed it. Just assume she is hungry and feed her! Do not simply say, “Let me know if you’re hungry” or “Call me if you need something.” She won’t. Just. Do. It.

Do everything else…and don’t expect a medal.

Here’s my detailed plan for distributing household chores during the immediate postpartum period. Mom: Sole provider of life support for tiny human. Dad: EVERYTHING ELSE. To clarify, that means laundry, dishes, meal prep, sibling meals and baths, grocery shopping, errand running, dessert fetching, host duties, team diapering, baby care during bathroom and shower and when she just needs a freakin break, and happy and cheerful man-servant. Learn her priorities, and make them your priorities. If she doesn’t care about  the lawn, then let it grow a bit taller this time. If you don’t care if the towels ever get folded but she does, then get to folding! And do not, under any circumstances, imply or insinuate that you are somehow the front-runner in the sacrifice competition. Never forget that she grew a person inside her body while sacrificing her own comfort and favorite things, then went through more physical discomfort than you will probably ever know to bring that baby outside her body, and is now sustaining life with nothing but her body. Doing the laundry for a while does not make you a hero or a martyr. It makes you a reasonable human being.

Help her connect with other breastfeeding women.

Depending on her circle of friends and family background, mom might not even know another breastfeeding mother. She may not have anyone else in her circle of support who can relate to what she is experiencing. Find a La Leche League group or other breastfeeding support group and encourage her to go check it out. You can locate your closest LLL group here. Help remove any obstacles that would keep her from attending, like older siblings or not being able to drive after cesarean birth. Make supporting her a high priority in your actions, not just your words.

Lower your expectations… then lower them again.

Real postpartum life is just not as magical as the Pampers commercial wants you to believe. Give her grace for the roller-coaster of emotions she may experience. Don’t expect her to be rational and logical every day. Don’t act like its weird if she randomly starts crying. Don’t treat her like she’s crazy if she never has an explanation for why she’s crying. Her body is recovering from a major ordeal. She has an internal wound,and possibly external wounds, that take months to heal. She is experiencing the most rapid and dramatic hormonal changes in her life. Don’t expect her world to still revolve around you and your needs. That’s just not realistic. Something has to give. She can’t be perfect in everything to everyone while getting 37 minutes of sleep per day and absolutely no physical space or alone time. Be patient. Be kind. Be patient some more. It will get easier.

Sarah

  • Legally Blind Mom of Three
  • Childbirth Educator & Doula
  • Former Special Ed Teacher
  • Chocoholic
5 Gifts to NEVER Give a Teacher

5 Gifts to NEVER Give a Teacher

Gift Advice From a Former Teacher

Before becoming a mom in my 30s, I was a teacher. I have taught public and private preschool, special education, and kindergarten. Needless to say, I’ve received many heartfelt gifts from my wonderful students and their families and heard even more chit-chat between teachers raking through the rubble and debris that follows the class Christmas parties. So let me lead with the obvious but necessary caveat that no one goes into education for the money or the Christmas bonuses. We love our students like our own kids and we truly appreciate being thought of at the holidays. That being said, now that I am a mom of three little kids, with three teachers and two speech therapists to buy for, THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. I want them to know how much I appreciate them for all they do for my kids but I also have to buy all the things… for all the people… on a single income budget. So… this sh#t is about to get REAL. And while it truly is “the thought that counts” those are free. If we as moms are going to give more than just a thought, shouldn’t it at least be something they actually want? Here are five things they definitely DON’T:

Coffee Mugs

So. Many. Coffee. Mugs. It doesn’t matter how cute they may be or how clever the saying- our cupboards are FULL. And I know what you’re thinking, “But I vinyl, so therefore I am exempt from this clause.” Sorry sweetie, but unless you know for sure that your kid’s teacher is dying for a personalized mug that needs constant protection from the dishwasher of death, save it for your mother-in-law. I’m gonna go out on a limb and bet she has more time to hand-wash a coffee mug than your kid’s teacher. If you absolutely must buy a coffee mug as a holder for some other item, please just buy it for cheap at Good Will since it will end up there anyway.

Apple Stuff

Think of it like this- say you or your spouse works in the medical field: Do you want to decorate your home with tons of little red-cross-ish medical symbols? Would you like to constantly receive picture frames, salt and pepper shakers, ornaments, aprons, socks, pens, pins, spoon-rests, magnets, and random knickknacks with little red crosses on them? NO. No, you would not. Home is home, and work is work, no matter how much you genuinely love your job.

Personalized Photo Gifts of Your Child

Yes, your child is ADORABLE, and yes, she is our FAVORITE student of all time, ever… EVER. Therefore her face DOES deserves a place of honor on our Christmas tree far more than all the other students. However, this item is unfortunately subject to the terms and limitations of Article #2, which states in part, “Work is work, and home is home.” And really, do you honestly keep pictures of your essential oil customers on your Christmas tree?

Classroom Supplies

I know, I know. This is confusing, right? If teachers are always complaining about spending their own money on classroom supplies then shouldn’t they be elated to receive 24 purple glue sticks for Christmas to be used exclusively by their students during the course of their work day? I mean what kind of ungrateful b*tch wouldn’t love off-brand un-washable markers for a Christmas gift? Would you buy your tax accountant receipt paper for Christmas? Nothing says “Christmas Spirit” like a new bottle of bleach for the hard-working lady who cleans your house every other week. Just think about whether this is really a gift for the PERSON or a way to kill two birds with one stone. By all means, SEND SUPPLIES! But don’t call it a “Christmas gift” for the one and only person who spends 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, with your child WITHOUT CURSING, all while singing like Snow White about things that begin with “F” or things that are red.

Russell Stover Chocolate

Can we all just be honest here? That crap is NASTY. (And this is coming from a mom with pitifully low standards who will actually consume gluten-free fake Oreos to get a quick chocolate fix in a moment of desperation) Does anyone really know if that mysterious brown substance is derived from wax or leftover hotel soap? It really could go either way. I know, I know, its like $0.17 and it comes in the shape of a Christmas tree, but have some standards ladies! If you’ve only got $0.17, that’s cool- we get it. Then just take out a piece of green construction paper, cut it into the shape of a tree, and write “Thank you for all you do and Merry Christmas” because, honestly that would mean SO much more to most teachers than any of the above items!

P.S. I know gift cards don’t grow on trees. Check out my follow-up post 5 Best Gifts Teachers will Actually Love for some out-of-the-box affordable teacher gift ideas!

Sarah

  • Legally Blind Mom of Three
  • Childbirth Educator & Doula
  • Former Special Ed Teacher
  • Chocoholic
Joy on a Cafeteria Tray: A Food Allergy Win!

Joy on a Cafeteria Tray: A Food Allergy Win!

Look closely at this picture. If your life does not revolve around food allergies, you may not catch it at first glance. This is no ordinary cafeteria lunch. To this six year old girl, this is JOY ON A TRAY, cleverly disguised as taco salad. So what the heck is so special about this taco salad? Absolutely nothing. Its just another typical, questionably nutritious, school lunch to everyone else in the room.

kid with food allergies eating in the school cafeteriaBut to a first grader with food allergies who has never been allowed to eat from the cafeteria before, this is a monumentally memorable day. The kind of day that warrants pictures and a gleeful phone call to grandparents. The kind of day that sends her running down the driveway, jumping up and down outside daddy’s car window before he can even open the door to hear her shrieking, “This was a great day! I got to eat cafeteria food like all the other kids!”

Like all the other kids…

When you have a child with food allergies, there’s always the obvious safety concerns, which thankfully are not life-threatening for any of my children. THANK YOU LORD. And then there’s always the issue of finding substitutes and replacements for things they can not eat, which seems to get a little simpler by the year, and just flat out easier with practice as you settle into “the new normal.” But the aspect I never considered before my kids were diagnosed, and one I feel most people just honestly can’t imagine from the outside looking in, is the social implications of food allergies.

I think we, as adults, often think of children with food allergies as just mini-adults on another special diet- as though a 2 year old would ever voluntarily go Paleo because its just a healthier way of life? Children don’t choose their allergies. They are not the result of informed and intentional lifestyle choices. Young children may not even understand what they are allergic to or why they can’t eat like everyone else. Food is so. very. social. Have you ever been to a birthday party that did not serve any food? I doubt it. What do moms of young children bring with them everywhere? Snacks. What does my daughter get if she sells enough cookie dough for a school fundraiser? A feel trip in a limo to go eat pizza. How is every school holiday celebrated? With a party full of snack foods, of course! How was the end of kindergarten celebrated? With an ice cream sundae bar. Little kids eat. All. The. Time. And, then of course, there’s our overall culture of celebrating anything and everything everything with food, reconnecting over food, rewarding with food, and consoling ourselves with food. On the first day of first grade, my daughter walked out of school and said, “I was having a great day, but then everyone else got candy and I didn’t.” She went on to explain that the candy was given as a reward to the class for being good listeners but that it contained something she was allergic to. (Gluten, Dairy, or Peanuts)

“Good thing there are so many new allergy options out there nowadays!”

And yes, as so many well-meaning moms have tried to encourage me, “there are so many gluten-free products out there now” and “its a good thing she can just have almond milk instead.” Yes, that’s true, and thank God for those options. But when your child is too little to read labels, ask the right questions, and determine what is or isn’t safe, that means your child is either left out completely or mom has to come to EVERYTHING… with whiney younger siblings and a big nerdy cooler of “alternative food” in tow, just in case the whole school didn’t already know she was “the allergy kid who can’t eat anything.”

Allergy Kid for the Win!

Bu not today! Today, after weeks of collaborating with our pediatrician and the school cafeteria manager, we were finally able to find one meal that could be modified enough for her to safely eat lunch from the cafeteria… “like all the other kids.” You would have thought it was the most exquisite of gourmet kids meals! She could not stop grinning as she dipped her tortilla chips in luke-warm refried beans and ground beef. I offered to open her little carton of juice for her, but she was so excited to try it herself, because of course- she’s never opened a carton of anything. And the pear she gnawed on was reportedly the most delicious pear ever picked at the peak of perfection. As the lunch period came to a close, kids were dismissed to line up and dump their tray on the way out the door to recess. But not mine. She wanted to skip recess to stay inside and finish her lunch. As each child passed her on the way out the door, she just kept waving with her ridiculously goofy grin, announcing to each of them, “I’m eating cafeteria food!” And though I did come for a lunch visit to make sure her prescription diet was actually followed, I did not bring along the circus in a cooler this time. I just showed up and followed her through the cafeteria line, with all the other visiting parents, trying to conceal my own excitement, which was at least as palpable as my daughter’s. Because unlike so many other parents, who are understandably imparting the value of being unique and encouraging their kids to stand out from the crowd, this mama wishes desperately that her kids could feel “like all the other kids” just a little more often. And today, this little girl went through the lunch line for the first time, just like all the other kids.

Do you have a child with a food allergy? What’s your most recent “food-allergy win?” Please let me celebrate vicariously through you!

Sarah

  • Legally Blind Mom of Three
  • Childbirth Educator & Doula
  • Former Special Ed Teacher
  • Chocoholic
The Lies that Whisper in Every Mom’s Ear

The Lies that Whisper in Every Mom’s Ear

This post is the product of one discussion question which was asked at one small group marriage study we attended last night. Question: “Why do you think marriages are more at risk today?” The other couples, all old enough to be my parents, shared their similar theories: financial stress, priorities, business, selfishness, etc. But all I could think was, “Those are the same marriage stressors that have been around for generations, so what is it that is uniquely challenging for marriages now?” As I’ve mulled over this question throughout the day, several heart-breaking stories have come to mind, all with different circumstances, but all brought down by a common invisible enemy, leading me to this theory, which is worth what you paid for it.

Compare and Contrast…

We are not the moms of the 1950s

Remember that skill that was such an asset in all those English classes? Apparently its not nearly as useful in marriage. Comparing our own life to another’s is nothing new. The phrase “keeping up with the Jones’” was coined long before the advent of social media. But here’s the difference I see with the way we compare today. Before social media, you could only compare so much with your friends and neighbors. Sure, you could compare your car, how well your grass was edged, or the clothes you wore to play dates, but you had to actually leave your house and be physically near someone else in order to compare your life to theirs. Or you had to pick up the phone (cord and all) and wedge it against your shoulder to gossip about someone else’s new purchase while you cooked dinner. If you wanted to be nosy, you had to work harder at it, and you could only find out so much about the inner workings of someone else’s marriage without being a creep in the bushes.

Fast forward to today… Yes, we can still compare our cars, clothes, and yards, but the comparison game literally never ends now! Social media bombards us with opportunities to compare our every move throughout our day. Now, with just the flick of my thumb and a few idle moments alone in the bathroom, I can see what all my friends and acquaintances are eating for breakfast, what personal revelation God gave them in their own quiet time (#blessed), what cute shoes they just found on sale at Target, how many calories they burned on their morning run, how many errands they accomplished before preschool pickup, and what kind of Pinterest-perfect project they completed at nap time. I wish my phone would just pop up a warning before opening any social media app that says,  “30 Ways to feel like a failure before 3:00” so I could at least mentally prepare before scrolling. Wondering what to make for dinner? Open your phone and you’ll be delighted to see your perfect friend is making Chilean Sea Bass, and its Paleo! And thanks to the selfie she posted at her stove, you can also compare her cute shirt and perfect makeup to your yoga pants, and spit-up covered tank top while you pray to the pantry for one last hidden box of Mac & Cheese to appear on the shelf. And without even realizing it or refuting it, that little voice in the back of your mind whispers, “Why can’t I get it together and get anything done? If she can do it all, why can’t I? Is her life just easier or am I just a slacker? If I had her life, I’d be happier.”

your mom friends don't have perfect marriages either     But the endless opportunities for comparison aren’t limited to the daily play by play. We also get a front row seat for everyone’s personal mountain top moments. Those priceless and formerly private exchanges between a husband and a wife are now constantly displayed in the name of public praise and appreciation. Have an awesome husband and want to shout it from the rooftops? Great! Social media is your venue! Awww… look at that sweet note by the coffee maker! He’s a keeper! Candlelight anniversary dinner with a panoramic view of the city from the hotel roof? Wow. He’s so thoughtful! A beautiful sunset pic behind your two wine glasses from your cruise ship balcony? That looks so relaxing and romantic! But that subtle little voice chimes in again, “Why aren’t we that happy? Why isn’t my husband more romantic, or thoughtful, or creative? My husband doesn’t love me the way hers does. If I had another man, I’d be happier.”

In my circle of friends, many of us are intentional when it comes to teaching our girls that fairy tales are not reality, and that real marriage is not like Hollywood. What we ought to be telling them is,Social media is a fairy tale! Real-life marriage is a highly classified secret that no one ever leaks online!” There’s nothing wrong with sharing accomplishments and celebrating our joys and victories with one another. I’m genuinely happy for my friends when I see good things come their way. I’m pretty darn proud of my kids and husband too, and of course I brag on them like everyone else!

moms will do anything for the perfect family pic

Here’s the trap though: Without even realizing it, we subliminally compare our day-to-day real life struggles to everyone’s highlight reels and find ourselves chronically discontent, wondering how we always wind up with the short end of the stick.

We post the smiling Christmas card photo but leave out the huge fight we had on the way to the smiley photo shoot over the cost of pictures, or the way we screamed at our precious little ones when they couldn’t find their shoes for the smiley photo shoot. We threaten to beat our children if they don’t just smile and offer them their weight in Skittles if they do (or maybe that’s just me) but none of that will ever be in the post- just the perfect smiley photo of the perfect marriage and perfect children…#blessed.

If marriages today are going to survive babies, bills, stress, and social media, We have got to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5-6) and recognize those sneaky little comparisons for what they are- apples to oranges- before they invade our hearts, robbing us of all joy and peace with our current spouse, home, and circumstances. Just do the math- if you have 100 friends on Facebook, chances are that you are going to be seeing someone’s vacation pictures every week. But that does not mean that everyone is  taking frequent and fabulous vacations except you.  I know we all know this in our heads, but I bet I’m not the only one who has gotten a little jealous or grouchy after scrolling past one too many tropical beach pics in my newsfeed while I’m home wiping butts day. after. day. On the other hand, just because 25 of your Facebook friends posted something sweet and endearing about their hubby doesn’t mean that at least as many of your Facebook friends aren’t currently fighting with their husbands about stupid stuff either. In fact, see that pretty Christmas card pic of my family above? Perhaps I may have screamed at my daughter as we were getting out of the car at that park that if she didn’t just quit her whining and wear that dress for 10 minutes of pictures, I would make her sleep in it all night!  But did I post that? Of course not! Who would ever admit to screaming at their kids like a crazy person for all of the internet to read? Certainly not me. But just imagine what would happen if we dared to go even one step off the mountain-top and actually post a few average, unimpressive, real updates to help balance the picture-perfect profile? Sure, post away about your 742 calories at spin class this morning, but maybe tomorrow when your sore butt is on the couch pressing play on Moana for the 3rd time, you could post that too? You might be surprised at how many likes you get from your fellow slacker moms out there who suddenly find you more approachable as both a Facebook friend and a real person.

And speaking of real people…

Its not enough to just be mindful of the perfectionism we are bombarded with on social media. Nor is it enough to just post a few “normal real-life posts” to try and counteract the myth. More now than ever, moms need real relationships with real friends. All of our social connectivity tends to fool us into thinking we have friends, but those online friendships are, in many cases, adding to the mom-guilt, the self-doubt, and the lie that “everyone else is doing this mom-thing better.” This is even more prevalent among moms of young children, who are overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, held hostage to nap schedules, and lacking adult interaction. Social media promises them a few moments of complete sentences with other adults but often leaves them feeling less competent and more isolated.

This is why moms of today need to seek out and connect to real, authentic, life-giving friendships with other transparent women who are willing to embrace imperfection. The kind of friendships where a mom can call another mom and shamelessly declare, “I really do not have it in me to parent today. We are coming over to play and I’m not packing any lunches.” The kind of friend who turns your apology for your messy house into a competition about whose house is the biggest disaster. The kind of friendships where a mom feels safe enough to admit she is struggling with no fear of being judged or lectured. You rarely find those friends through the impersonal, one-dimensional interactions of a Facebook group.  Its even hard to develop these friendships making the mom circuit (library, park, playgroup, gym) where moms are still “on” and everyone is posting selfies and pretending to have their crap together. For me, those friendships have come largely through the church-based small group that I host in my home for moms of young children and from my local MOPS group, which stands for Mothers of Preschoolers. When you are constantly exposed to photoshop perfection, Pinterest glory, super-human productivity, and  endless streams of accomplishment, you need at least one other real-life mom, or better yet a small tribe of brutally honest moms, who can help you put all those unhealthy comparisons back into perspective.  You need those real friends who know you well enough to name those lies that have crept into your heart and refute them with the simple, yet seldom-heard truth:

     You are a good mom.

There is no such thing as a perfect marriage.

Its exhausting to be everything to everyone all the time.

It will get easier some day.

Sarah

  • Legally Blind Mom of Three
  • Childbirth Educator & Doula
  • Former Special Ed Teacher
  • Chocoholic